Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
Tending the New Creation: Joyful Urgency
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:Mark 6:1-13
Mark’s gospel, all 16 chapters, was probably heard in one sitting by its first audiences. Most people could not read, so someone with that ability would have read it carefully aloud and everyone would have listened with equal care. We no longer do that. Instead, we read smaller portions, like the thirteen verses we heard from chapter 6. These 13 verses would have made more sense if we had read chapters 1-5 first. Instead of doing that, let me summarize.
In chapter 1, Jesus appears at the Jordan River and presents himself to John the Baptist for baptism after which the Spirit drives him into the wilderness where he is tempted for 40 days and nights. Then Herod Antipas arrests John and Jesus begins an itinerant ministry around the sea of Galilee. If we had been listening or reading along, we would have heard about his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and a leper and a paralyzed man lowered through the roof down into the crowded house. We would have heard about Jesus calling followers away from their work as fishermen or tax collectors, forgiving sins, committing civil disobedience by breaking the Sabbath, teaching in parables, eating with tax collectors and sinners, casting out a demon from the Gerasene demoniac, healing a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and restoring a recently deceased 12-year-old girl to life. The pace of these actions is almost breathless and as it moves along, the size of the crowd around him just grows and grows.
Until now, in chapter 6, when he returns to his home town of Nazareth. Everywhere the crowds have been huge, the requests for healing overwhelming and people have hung on his every word. But in his home town, they say “Isn’t he the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son?”
Those sound like simple facts, don’t they? We think that Jesus is a carpenter by trade and he is in fact, Mary’s son. But those particular facts are chosen carefully. This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as a carpenter. Carpenters were toward the bottom of the social scale in first century Israel. They ranked even below peasant farmers.
This is also the only place where Jesus is referred to Mary’s son. The only reason to identify someone by his mother in Jesus’ day was to question his legitimacy, to highlight the fac that no one knew for certain who his father was.
The villagers are saying “Who does this kid think he is?” They are greatly offended that this mere construction worker of questionable parentage thinks that he can interpret scripture or heal people or rise any higher in the social pecking order than they will let him. They are successful in their unbelief, in their refusal to hear good news. Mark reports that Jesus could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
Nazareth is a tiny village where perhaps 120-150 people lived at this time. It seems that even a small number of people who are determined not to see the truth can barricade themselves against it and any good that might have come with it to their community.
It is after this rejection that Jesus sends out the twelve in pairs. The timing is no accident. He has modelled for them how to handle success and failure. Having seen both the swelling crowds and the arrogant dismissal of Jesus might help them to set their expectations a bit more realistically.
Jesus gives them some very concrete instructions. The specifics are preserved and probably serve as the operating manual for those in Mark’s community who went out from their own churches. They are basic, but sometimes getting back to the basics is exactly what we need to do.
The children’s story reminded us to stay on mission. If the mission is a trip to the beach, we need to remember our bathing suits and leave a whole lot of other baggage behind.
Jesus tells them “take nothing for your journey.” And then he breaks that down. Take nothing, except for sandals and a staff. They are not allowed a second tunic, nor money, nor luggage, not even snacks. I suspect that over time, people would recognize Jesus’ disciples when they saw them out and about. Just like we recognize certain missionaries who come to our doors by how they’re dressed and what they carry. There were other distinctively dressed emissaries at the time. Jesus’ disciples would have contrasted sharply the Cynics, who were travelling philosophers. The Cynics were recognized by their ragged cloaks and unkempt beards and hair. They went barefoot but carried a staff and a knapsack. Their dress indicated their counter-cultural stance. The knapsack symbolized their self-sufficiency.
In contrast, the “nothing” that Jesus’ disciples carry symbolizes their dependency. They are to go out without the protection of stuff. No second tunic to protect them from the cold desert nights, no money to pay for lodging or extra provisions. They are to depend on God and the hospitality of strangers. If the Cynics’ stance is one of self-sufficiency, the disciples are dependent on a community.
They are sent out with authority, with power over unclean spirits, as Mark describes it. Their mission is to call for repentance, which, remember, is a Biblical word for change. While they are away, John the Baptist will be executed and that will be the event which makes them return to Jesus. Mark tells the story as he does to underscore that they are picking up the role of John and Jesus as change-agents.
Jesus has sent them out with almost nothing, right? So how is it that they are to affect change? It seems to me that all they have is the power of the truth. The power of the truth. They are to carry nothing and speak the truth.
This is another one of those basic instructions that we might need to recover from time to time. Speak the truth. The truth has its own power. We know that. I think of recent award shows where celebrities used their 3-minute speech to speak profound truth about injustice and empowerment of others and courage and endurance. I think of the videos and audio recordings from places where immigrant children are being detained separate from their parents and how the truth they conveyed stirred hearts and shaped public outrage across the country.
The disciples are to speak the truth, which has the power to change those willing to receive it. The message they carry is wide-ranging. It is not just about people’s spiritual well-being. It is not just about their economic well-being. It is not just about their physical health. It is not just about how to respond to the despair-inducing politics of the day. It is about all of that and more.
Presbyterian minister Tom Long writes, ““The ministry of the church, like the ministry of Jesus, is a comprehensive ministry addressed to the whole range of human need. Any notion that the church ought to quit getting involved in non-spiritual matters and get back to its ‘real job’ of preaching the gospel and saving souls misses the point. ‘Preaching the gospel and saving souls’ means grappling with disease and the demonic, with social segregation and the powers of death. It means therefore, wrestling with issues of public health care, with racial and social alienation, with the power of domination and oppression that bleed the life out of a community.” 
This truth, this good news, can heal individuals and transform communities. It is truth that can and will be rejected by those unable to hear, unwilling to receive. There will always be some who dispute the facts. There will always be those who question the legitimacy of the messenger – “who does he think he is? Isn’t this Mary’s son?” – and worse will be said with a sneer. The disciples are not responsible for those who reject their truth. They are simply to let that go and move on to those more willing to listen. That is another basic instruction in their operating manual.
And so, these are my take-aways from this story. Jesus’ disciples are to tell the truth and to depend on others. We are to speak truth which has the power to transform and to do so, not as self-sufficient individuals, but as people within a community that offers mutual support and hospitality and keeps us humble. The basics are simple, but a simple foundation seems to be what I need right now.
Oh, and there’s one more thing. I read this text in the translation of the Bible called The Message. The Message is the work of Eugene Peterson, an experienced pastor and scholar. Bible translation is usually done by a committee of scholars who argue and advocate for particular word choices. It is a series of carefully nuanced word choices. Peterson is one person who set out to create a very contemporary, highly idiomatic version of the Bible to speak to our current condition. So, I often read that version, but I don’t use it for serious study. However, this week, something in The Message caught my ear. Peterson translates verse 12 like this, “Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be different.”
Joyful urgency. That’s what caught my ear. A lot of our messages are urgent . . . warnings to get out of the way of danger, biopsy results, bad news of many kinds. But how many of our messages are joyfully urgent? Perhaps birth announcements are joyfully urgent. News of narrow escapes, of disaster avoided, things that make us weep with relief. If word should come that the soccer team has been successfully freed from the cave in Thailand, that would qualify as joyfully urgent news.
Listen to Mark 6:1-3 as rendered by Eugene Peterson:
Jesus called the Twelve to him and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:
“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
And so in a world where change is desperately needed, in a time of fake news and bad news, in a culture that carefully chooses which facts it will accept and which messengers are to be rejected, let us accept the mission given by Jesus -- recognizing our dependence on God and each other, may we tell the truth that is wide and deep in its transforming power, and may we do so with the joyful urgency of new birth and life-giving liberation. Thanks be to God.
 Debie Thomas, “Origin Stories” at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay